Let’s get a few misnomers out of the way. With regard to spirits, small is not necessarily better than large. Local is not inherently higher in quality than something distilled a thousand miles away. After all, we’re not talking produce. While the terms “craft” and “local” are bandied around more than they probably should be, it’s paramount to define that there does exist a relationship between the two.
No spirit should be deemed craft unless it is locally-owned. It is important to recognize that local-ownership is distinct from the generically, nondescript "local." We need not be tethered to only those distilleries that are located within a 50- or 100- or 200-mile radius of where we live. We should, however, support distilleries that are owned by people that live within 30 minutes of their still(s).
This has nothing (or, at least, very little) to do with quality and everything to do with economics. A crucial part of sustainability is supporting the local economies in which we participate. Every dollar you spend on a locally-owned spirit goes much further in supporting small-scale manufacturing, mindful entrepreneurs and small independent businesses.
Using restaurants as a model, let’s compare the local benefit of independents vs. chains. When money is spent at a chain restaurant in the US only 34.5% of those dollars recirculate in the local economy, whereas 65.4% of revenue recirculates when it is spent at an independent (www.civiceconomics.com). The comparison isn’t perfect, but the parallels are consistent enough when it comes to talking and thinking about locally-owned spirits vs. multinational brands. Diageo wants your dollars, but it doesn’t need them in the way that Joe, the distiller down-the-street does. More to the point, Diageo doesn’t recirculate those spent dollars back in the US with the efficiency that Joe would.
There are a lot of new and small spirits brands popping up these days that are claiming to be craft. Next time you come across one, find out where the owner lives. Hopefully, it’s within driving distance of the distillery.
Scott Rosenbaum is a wine, spirit, and cocktail evangelist based in Jersey. He works to source and distribute craft spirits that come from distilleries that uphold the values he believes in: small-scale production, transparency and honesty, local ownership, and minimal manipulation.